Holiday desserts get a bad rap with memories of cloyingly sweet, leaden bricks of Christmas past. Escape your fruit cake funk and end the year with these five sweets: croquembouche, panetonne, sufganiyot, stollen and the beautifully elaborate Buche de Noel. Sure, you can make them yourself, but it's good to know you don't have to. Turn the page for details.
What: AKA Croque-en-Bouche (literally "crunch in the mouth"), the towering display is stacked with cream puffs and glazed with caramelized sugar. Where: Little Next Door's confectionery pyramid -- choose vanilla, chocolate, coffee, Grand Marnier or rose cream-filled choux -- are sprinkled in crushed pistachios and serves 30. Bottega Louie has a multi-flavored version of macarons in small (35 pieces) and large (125 pieces). Details: Little Next Door, 8142 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles, (323) 951-1010, $175. Bottega Louie, 700 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 802-1470, $125 for small, $175 for large.
What: What's inside the hat shaped-box lining grocery store aisles this time of year? The brioche-like Milanese bread of dried fruit is a little egg-y, a little citrus-y, and totally Christmas. Where: Atwater Village's Proof Bakery round loaf is baked with golden raisins, candied orange and topped with sliced almonds. Tavern's in-house baker Nathan Dakdouk makes his version with rum and orange liqueur-soaked dried pineapple, Thompson and golden raisin, cranberries, candied orange and orange juice for a delicate and not-too-sweet loaf. Details: Proof Bakery, 3156 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 664-8633, $25. The Larder at Tavern, 11648 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 806-6460, $10.
What: These yeast doughnuts of Hanukkah are fried in oil and eaten in honor of the oil to light the Menorah for eight days. Where: Bakeries in LA's Fairfax are aplenty selling the powder sugar-dusted, raspberry jelly-filled fritters. Details: Beverlywood Bakery, 9128 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 278-0122, $1.95. Canter's Delicatessen, 419 N. Fairfax Ave., (323) 651-2030, $1.25. Schwartz Bakery, 433 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 653-1683, $1.25.
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What: The most popular Dresden -- as in Germany where it originates -- variety is not for the faint of heart (or sweet teeth-uninitiated). The loaf-shaped cake is dense with dried fruits, nuts, citron, spices and dusted with powdered sugar.Where: Rockenwagner carries one-pound or two-pound loaves filled with rum-soaked raisins, candied fruit and almonds at its three Westside bakery/cafes. Details: Rockenwagner Bakery, 12835 Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 577-0747; 311 Arizona Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 394-4267; 395 Santa Monica Place, Santa Monica, (310) 933-4758; 1121 Abbot Kinney, Venice, (310) 399-6504, $9.50 for 1-pound loaf, $15.50 for 2-pound loaf.
1. Buche de Noel:
What: These eponymous yule logs vary in flavor, shape, size, and color from minimal -- base of buttercream-rolled sponge cake -- to tricked out. Where: Sweet Lady Jane's chocolate-almond cake creation is rolled in raspberry buttercream, covered in chocolate ganache, and decorated with powdered sugar and meringue mushrooms. At Susina, choose from vanilla -- vanilla cake brushed with rum and rolled in chocolate mousse -- or chocolate -- chocolate cake brushed with coffee liquor and filled with whipped cream -- both complete with meringue mushrooms and marzipan decorations. Details: Susina Bakery, 7122 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 934-7900, $45 for 6-8 people, $65 for 10-12 people. Sweet Lady Jane, 8360 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 653-7145; 1631 Montana Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 254-9499, $110 for 15-20 people.